An email sent to Columbia administrators out of concern for continuing restrictions in April 2022.
Dear administrators and staff of Columbia University,
I write to you today, seriously concerned about ongoing decisions by many of you—either directly or indirectly—in response to the ongoing endemic of COVID-19. In sum, I wish to express my severe and sincere displeasure at ongoing restrictions and requirements, including masking in non-medical settings, the booster mandate, vaccination-checking, and visitor policies. For how long will Columbia continue to dictate the course of our campus life with words like “out of an abundance of caution”? Out of an abundance of caution, nothing. It is time to stop leashing and start letting.
Masks should not be required in classrooms. Not only is the current policy seemingly symbolic, as it fails to account for every other hour of life outside the classroom, but it hurts our classroom setting. Seeing faces, watching the minute changes of expression as wonder or shock at texts and discussions takes over, creating genuine community with acquaintances-still-becoming-friends … this is the classroom we need! To change the policy backwards because of a variant causing a spike in a 99.9% vaccinated campus, with extremely few cases of severe illness, is a regression that is hard to understand. Where is the justification? “Out of an abundance of caution” is not, by any means, enough. Are we wrong in this? Is there some scientifically sound reason? Do you have data we cannot see? Make public, then, all your Task Force meetings, your e-mail correspondence, and your documents. We are not a government, you reply? We have no Open Records Act, you quip? And? Do we, as a University, unnecessarily restrict free speech because we are private? Have we committed ourselves to mediocrity and fear for nothing? Out of a good heart unhinged from good reason?
Lift the booster mandate. For those who have not received a booster, the choice should be free. Every requirement should consider its subsequent burden on the freedom of students, especially healthy students for whom there is very little risk after zero, one, or two shots.
Our campus should be open to all, not restricted to the card-carrying vaccinated. Access to campus spaces and visitor approval need not rely on any individual’s vaccination status. This has to happen at some point, so do it now. Why now, you ask? Why not?
For those of you on the COVID Task Force: I ask you to immediately recommend changes to Columbia’s policies in masking and vaccination. For those of you with the power to actually change the policies: change them. For those who sit between administration and the Trustees: forward to them my concerns; I assure you they are very widespread. For those with no power: inquire, ask, and petition; use your voice to work for a return to normalcy—a new normalcy full of thanksgiving for the solidarity, sacrifices, and solutions that have been made possible through love of heart and exertion of mind. A new kind of normalcy with ever-closer awareness of our mortality. For as C. S. Lewis said in 1939:
«Life has never been normal. Even those periods which we think most tranquil, like the nineteenth century, turn out, on closer inspection, to be full of crises, alarms, difficulties, emergencies. Plausible reasons have never been lacking for putting off all merely cultural activities until some imminent danger has been averted or some crying injustice put right. But humanity long ago chose to neglect those plausible reasons. They wanted knowledge and beauty now, and would not wait for the suitable moment that never comes. […] if we looked for something that would turn the present world from a place of pilgrimage into a permanent city satisfying the soul … we are disillusioned, and not a moment too soon»
Give us, I beg you, a place to freely seek that knowledge and beauty. Now!
With all sincerity and hope,
Nathaniel Ijams, CC’24